I hope that some day all of my projects go as smooth as Sender describes the development of the "O" logo in a recent New York Times article. What the article lacks in uncovering what must of been gut-wrenching pressure for a group designers fueled by pizza and coffee, it makes up for in honesty for it's concerns for use and misuse as they handed it off to the campaign. Thankfully the campaign designers were good brand stewards and the logo will be remembered as one of the most successful identities of the year.
One thing I enjoy about about the web is google search and the nonlinear connections it can make on any given subject. I can be lazy at times and I often find myself using google search to spellcheck a specific word instead of actually clicking on the spellcheck function of a given application. (Ultimately this may be more work in the end but that's not the point). This leads to some interesting websites that stimulate my thinking, and on occasion forces me to question the motivation of human beings. One word that brought much joy to a google search was "definitely". The search results for this word listed a very interesting site. www.d-e-f-i-n-i-t-e-l-y.com
Not only was the site helpful in providing me with all of the ways not to spell definitely, the publisher of the site was thoughtful enough to inform me that Sylvia Brown is definitely not a psychic. Not only do I not care who Sylvia Brown is, I don't have any interest in psychics, but google has played a role in sparking some kind of nonlinear interest that I've surrendered all cognitive control over. As I dig deeper it becomes obvious that someone has an agenda with Sylvia Brown because the d-e-f-i-n-t-e-l-y.com site is really a funnel to drive traffic to www.stopsylvia.com. Reading through this site not only do I start to question the motivation of a Mr Robert S. Lancaster, who is the creator of the site, I start to question my own motivations.
Why do so many subjects that we come across online suddenly interest us that we wouldn't waste one second pondering offline? Is it because it's so easy to point and click? Is it pure entertainment? Is it because someone has created an online experience with passion about a particular subject? Or has search become the greatest nonlinear organizational tool and exploring these connections is just a natural part of trying to understand how the web is organized? Or am I just addicted to chaos?
In any case I've finally had the word "definitely" ingrained into my brain thanks to google search being used for something it wasn't really designed for and a passionate individual who has a bone to pick with a psychic.
Politics aside, Barack Obama's presidential campaign was one of the finest integrated marketing efforts I've ever seen. Of course the message and the man are core factors to the campaigns success. But the brand discipline has created a powerful framework for how people connected with the message and the man. Ultimately this branded connection is greater than the sum of its (branding) parts and inspired change.
Here are some of the basic elements of the framework that helped develop a simple and compelling story about Obama.
The Message: Obama's clear and compelling statements outlined what he stands for and how he would deliver it. "Change we can believe in" became the brand promise and allowed the audience to connect to his vision of who we could become. In short the brand essence: transformational.
The Brand Personality: Obama's message of change harmonized across both the intellectual and emotional sides of the brand. The intellectual side appeared authentic, thoughtful and progressive. Emotionally he connected with an approachable, open-mindedand and an empowering tone.
The Brand Design: From the consistent use of the American inspired Gotham typography to the gracefulness of the "O" logo, each of these elements helped shape reinforced his message with a consistent visual voice. The design did more than just look nice in a news clip, it demonstrated a level of control that you don't often find in even high-end consumer brands.
The Brand Connection: The campaign website it truly the experience engine of the campaign. From a design perspective it presents the candidate and the messaging in a clean, smooth and elegant fashion. Of course the content is relevant and dynamic, and because it was updated daily (and sometimes hourly) it opened the door for a "real time conversation" of sorts between the candidate and the audience. Not only was this a chance for the campaign to make meaningful connections, it allowed the audience to share what they felt was relevant, the way they wanted to share and consume it.
Opening The Brand: Taking the website experience a step further with a solid brand framework as its foundation, the Obama brand to become an open brand experience. Being an open brand didn't mean giving up control of the message, rather it allowed people to participate with the campaign on their terms. Of course there were blogs, video feeds and real time feedback but there was a sense that this campaign was be co-created with the community. People were interacting and sharing with perfect strangers over the internet through social networking. Micro-communities were springing up all over the internet and created a momentum that took on a life all of its own and became difficult to blunt let alone stop.
Obamamania Goes Viral: This campaign took on a life of it's own through associations wanting to connect to Obama and what the brand stood for. Everything from the will.i.am mash up to inspired citizens creating videos, art and music began to circulate online. You could see tangible evidence of the bottom up model creating content and embracing the message. This wasn't a creation of the media. It was an authentic and it also helped to convert passive online viewers into active (financial) contributors to the campaign.
The Obamamania experience came to a crescendo on November 4th with the celebration in Chicago's Grant Park. Not only did the brand evangelists come out by the tens of thousands but the man, the message and design framework came full circle once again as the echo of "Yes we can" was heard around the world.
I'm certain that there will be dozens of books written in the months to come about how the campaign leveraged marketing principals to reach its goals that will be much more thorough than my entry. But there are a few additional points worth mentioning:
1) The design framework that shaped the open brand campaign approach brought a level of inclusion and intimacy that you don't often find in brand let along political campaigns.
2) An obvious but critical element to the success of this campaign (or any brand) is it was easy to donate (or make a purchase) online. There was also an instant follow up confirming and thanking the individual for contributing. These were design and communication elements that were planned well in advance that gave the user a level of comfort and sense of forethought.
3) People love brands for the experience they deliver not just the product specifications. You'll never see technical specs in a iPod commercial because nobody really cares. Much like a high-end brand Obama was able to project and reinforce the essence of his brand himself without getting pulled down into the marketing weeds. He left the policy specification to other tactical channels and was able to build equity into his core message where his competition couldn't compete.
4) This campaign was less of a political machine and more of a media organization. Control of communication is critical across the organization as well as to the audience. Design can play a significant role in optimizing the message as well as the presentation of the message.
5) Brand design is more art than formula. If there's one thing that was mastered by the Obama campaign it was creating a balance between structure and flexibility.
The bottom line is that building a brand framework that leads to a self sustaining community looks less like marketing or design and more like customer relationship management. It takes the combined effort of different disciplines to bring life into something that has an extreme level of control. It's not a campaign you can launch and let the media buy do the rest of the work. However, if you are fortunate enough to have an audience that wants to connect, it's something worth developing.
My background is diverse. I have deep experience in digital, brand campaigns and identity development. At heart I'm a designer, but few things get me more excited than generating big ideas. I know what it takes to motivate and direct people to shape an idea into something that has meaning for our team, our audience and ultimately our client’s business.
For the last 15+ years I've worked at a variety of agencies honing my digital, branding, B2B, direct and design skills. Each of these disciplines has given me a unique perspective on communication and refined my insight into how they work together to move a brand forward.
I've had the pleasure to work with many incredibly talented people and numerous smart, successful organizations and I'm hoping some of if it rubbed off on me. I love talking strategy, developing ideas and growing as a creative.
Inspired to take a chance, I formed C2 Creative Consulting, Ltd. in 2009 with my long-time creative partner. We are a specialized creative team that partners with C level executives, agency teams and marketing leadership to bring an outside perspective on a strategic or creative challenge. I am also a part of the kohactive team.